tomo's blog

Ho Chi Minh City Slums

Submitted by tomo on October 30, 2012 - 10:17pm

According to an outdated BBC report there is a slum district in Ho Chi Minh City and I live in it. The slum (khu nha o chuot in Vietnamese) is the area around Thi Nghe - Nhieu Loc Canal. The houses here are built along canals where the roads aren't built right next to the canal, giving the houses an opportunity to encroach upon the water.

Before coming to Vietnam I'd visited most of the other Southeast Asian countries and in any of the major cities there were districts that were considered slums. For example, in Manila there is the infamous Tondo.

The surprising thing is that in Ho Chi Minh City there's nowhere that I would especially consider a slum region. The city has some richer and poorer neighborhoods but most of the city is fairly uniformly poor and underdeveloped yet safe and economically thriving. There is no Cabrini Green (Chicago) projects or massively dense and lawless Kowloon (Hong Kong).

Some regional stats:

Access to water in urbanized areas of...
1. Indonesia: 89%
2. Philippines: 93%
3. Vietnam: 99%

Access to sanitation in urbanized areas of...
1. Indonesia: 67%
2. Philippines: 80%
3. Vietnam: 94%

One way to define a slum is a neighborhood where the buildings and land have no clear title of ownership so the people who live on that land and "own" those structures cannot legally defend their property nor is there any way for them to sell or mortgage their property, get loans from a bank to make improvements, or to get some basic services. A problem for people who live in the slums along the canal near my house is that they don't know if or when they will get evicted and then where they could go for the same rent they're paying now or to buy a house for what they would receive in compensation for the low value of their house. They surely couldn't afford anything else not far outside of the city. What they need as replacement is legal affordable housing and most likely that needs to be provided by the government. Often when the government clears neighborhoods, they will build an apartment block somewhere and give the people who lived in the cleared neighborhood an opportunity to live in the new apartment building at a somewhat affordable price.

A broader definition of a slum is where there is a lack of connection to public infrastructure like plumbing for sanitation and receiving clean water for cooking and bathing, electricity, trash collection, telecommunications, and legal status. By that definition I'm not sure there are any large slums in the city. But many of Saigon's canals have become "slumways".

But across the narrow alley from the shanties of these slums are houses with significant investment in them. Building up a home to multiple storeys signals at least some confidence in the sustainable value of their property. The row of shanty houses they face not only don't have the money to build, it's far too risky when the local police could come and tear it all down at any moment. But this shows you can live a meter away from a slum yet still be quite well off and not worried about the property value of your house being affected by the fact that you're right next to a slum.

Should slums be cleared?

From another culture's point of view, slums are unsightly, represent poverty, and should not exist. But hiding poverty isn't the same as reducing it. Plus there's no way to hide all the poverty in Vietnam, considering how poor it is and will be for the foreseeable future. But there are real negative side effects to these slums, such as pollution. One solution might be to decriminalize these homes and tax them minimally, enough to provide communal resources to ensure the homes are built safely and aren't dumping waste into the canals. In fact the people living in these homes should be made responsible for and rewarded for keeping their canals clean.

So are there slums or not?

All the definiting and criteria are confusing. Saying there is or isn't a slum is mostly semantic. You might say all of Vietnam was a slum by most Western standards. Whether there are slums or not in Ho Chi Minh City, anywhere you look in Vietnam you're going to find poor people living with poor infrastructure where the government can basically take land at will.

But if you came here for slum tourism then maybe you should take a bus to Phnom Penh instead and visit the Steung Meanchey garbage dump, a.k.a. Smoky Mountain.

Saigon Street Food - A Virtual Culinary Tour

Submitted by tomo on October 30, 2012 - 9:15pm

Let's set some ground rules: Street food must be eaten on the sidewalk without the option of eating indoors, as many "proper" restaurants also have outdoor seating, even though such "al fresco" appropriations of the street are actually illegal and subject to periodic police inspections where illegally placed plastic chairs and tables are confiscated. For Vietnamese small business owners who don't even rent space inside any buildings, their whole business depends on police not cracking down on them. Perhaps a better solution would be a non-corrupt (haha) registration and hygiene inspection process for street food vendors, then the government could get some tax income, the business owners would have some stability, and the consumers would get some level of food safety. But for now, let's get back to reality.

1. Banh Xeo - often translated as Vietnamese pancakes or Vietnamese crepes. Like pancakes or crepes, a batter is poured into a circular pan to crispen a thin round layer of this "cake" which has toppings like shrimp and pork, bean sprouts, and sometimes mushrooms (but not so much in the street). Banh Xeo Mien Trung is a smaller version. You can try this on Phan Ke Binh Street (near DeciBel) and Ung Van Khiem Street near D2 in Binh Thanh District.

2. Banh Mi Thit - the Vietnamese submarine sandwich / roll. Next to pho, this is probably the most famous Vietnamese dish outside of Vietnam. A French bread roll spread with pate (both foods from the French colonial era) stuffed with some kind of meat, julienned carrots and pickled daikon, cilantro - and some fresh and extremely spicy chili peppers if you don't remember to ask them "khong ot". Vo Van Tan near Cach Mang Thang 8 in District 3 has a popular shop to get some takeaway banh mi thit. Also try Banh Mi Heo Quay, pork with delicious -crispy- fat and skin attached, available on Ngo Tat To Street in Binh Thanh District.

3. Mi Hoanh Thanh - Chinese Won Ton Ramen Noodle Cart. Also seemingly referred to as "van than" in the North Vietnamese dialect. "Mi" refers to ramen noodles and if you think ramen means cheap instant noodles then you need to get schooled. Often these will be served in fancy wooden noodle carts which you can also sit at. The noodles should be fresh, not instant industrially dried noodles. Hoanh Thanh are won ton noodle dumplings. Also try Mi Xa Xiu - "char siu" in Chinese or cha-shu in Japanese. Try it at the corner of Xo Viet Nghe Tinh right after the Thi Nghe Bridge.

4. Banh Khot - Banh Khot is similar to Banh Xeo but thicker with a much smaller diameter. Too similar for me to distinguish is another dish called Banh Canh, not to be confused with the similarly pronounced Banh Canh noodle dish. Like Banh Xeo, after the batter and toppings are fired in their clay vessels they are wrapped by your hands in lettuce or mustard greens and rice paper, topped with fresh herbs, and then dipped in fish sauce.

5. Hu Tiu (Nam Vang), Hu Tiu Go - Hu Tiu (or Hu Tieu) is a kind of noodle. Hu Tiu Nam Vang refers to a version of this noodle dish, which can be eaten in soup or "dry", which should be Khmer - Nam Vang is an old Vietnamese word for Phnom Penh. Hu Tiu Go isn't a flavor of Hu Tiu. Rather it refers to the way it is sold. Go means to knock, and a seller of Hu Tiu Go will push his cart down the street while knocking on wood to let people know he's coming.

6. Banh Trang Tron - A favorite after school snack of Vietnamese girls. A trail mix of rice paper, herbs, chili chopped up and mixed with dried beef or quail eggs and served in a plastic bag with two small sticks to be used like chopsticks.

7. Com Tam - broken rice, a traditional South Vietnamese breakfast as opposed to pho in the North. Using the broken grains of rice served with BBQ pork (suon), sunny-side up egg (op-la), (bi), (cha), and with fish sauce (nuoc mam) dripped over to taste.

8. Xoi - Sticky rice. Can be served with separated chicken as easily as with ripe mango or other sweets. A favorite of mine is Xoi Khuc.

9. Bot Chien - What look like mochi cubes are thrown in a wok and fried with an egg or two into an omelette with fried cubes of... what exactly? Photo attached.

10. Banh Cuon - Kind of like a giant round noodle. Banh in Vietnamese can mean many things although it's often translated to cake. It can also mean bread and sometimes the noodle in a noodle dish. Banh Cuon is some kind of batter steamed in a giant circle until it's hard and noodley then topped with something like ground beef (or seafood or chicke and mushrooms if you want to get fancy). Then you add some "cha", herbs, and bean sprouts and pour on the nuoc mam and put it all into your mouth.

11. Bo La Lot - This one almost killed me. Street food is all fun and games until you are vomiting out both ends of your body for 24 hours. This dish of mystery beef wrapped in "lot" leaves and then cooked over coals, then wrapped in rice paper or greens and topped with thinly sliced papaya or unripe bananas and other leaves, can be quite tasty. But take it from me: avoid buying it from the sidewalk sellers on Ton Duc Thang Street right at the beginning of Le Thanh Ton Street.


Nuoc Mia - The quintessential street drink. Sugar cane juice made by running sticks of sugar cane through a press. When I first started drinking this it was availale for 2000 VND/glass but now it's no less than 4000 VND, which still comes out to less than 20 cents.

Sinh To - fruit smoothies. Strawberry, tomato, avacado, custard apple, banana, mango, etc. Go to the Hang Xanh Roundabout (aka The Circle of Death) after midnight if you're bored and thirsty.

Trai Dua - This is not even street food, it's jungle food. In the Mekong Delta, in provinces like Ben Tre, this magical fruit literally grows on trees. Coconuts can be drunk anywhere as long as you have a way to crack them open.

Tra Chanh - This is a street drink but it's not a Saigon street drink. Next time I will write about drinking this lemon tea on the streets of Hanoi.

Vietnamese people love gambling. If there's anything Vietnamese people are famous for it's (in order):

1. Nail salons
2. Pho
3. Gambling
4. Maybe a long off 4th would be: Billiards

The surprising thing is that there aren't really that many nail salons in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government, probably rightfully so, have decided that Vietnamese people should not be allowed to gamble. But unlike America, where casinos are banned from existing in most cities and states (which is why Las Vegas, a place in the middle of the desert, initially attracts people from across the country), there are actually a lot of casinos legally operating in Ho Chi Minh City - in all, 43 gambling establishments concentrated in Hanoi and Saigon. But local Vietnamese are not allowed to step foot in them except to work inside them. Viet Kieu who have foreign passports can come though. Casinos are inside many of the big 5-star (down to 3-star) hotels like Caravelle, Majestic, New World Hotel, Equatorial Hotel in District 5, Movenpick Hotel in Phu Nhuan, etc. Saigon's casinos are all fairly small and nothing like Vegas (or even Macau). They are usually empty when I randomly check them out - purely for research purposes. They may be completely electronic, including all card games.

As I was saying, Vietnamese people love to gamble. Poor people don't need to beg for money in Vietnam because they can instead sell lottery tickets which everyone buys. Vietnamese people don't consider buying lottery tickets gambling. You can see card games, what they do consider gambling, in action at Tet. For the few days of Tet, every house in Vietnam turns into a casino. Kids are taught how to gamble (but not necessarily how to gamble well) and they gamble away the "lucky money" they receive from parents and other elders. For those few days, people are allowed to concentrate in small alleys and play card games for money and the police don't care.

The rest of the year, Vietnamese who want to bet on cards have another choice: make a run for the border town of Bavet (remember to enable 3G on your Cambodian MetFone account) in Cambodia's Svay Rieng province, just across from Moc Bai, which itself is just outside of Ho Chi Minh City. You can take a Saigon city bus from downtown Ben Thanh Market to Moc Bai and then walk across the border. What you'll be greeted with is a single drag with almost nothing but shabby casino buildings with names like Le Macau. In this area, your phone's Vietnamese sim card will probably still work, people will be fluent in both Khmer and Vietnamese, and stores will accept Vietnamese dong as well as riel or dollars.

Inside a Bavet casino you'll find the standard casino card games like blackjack (or Vietnamese "xi dach" / "xi lac"), poker, baccarat, and slot machines. At the casinos for rich gamblers the food and drinks will be free. You'll also find cock fighting (da ga) inside the casinos! Vietnamese people also love betting on sports and there are also a number of online Vietnamese sites where they can transfer money and bet on football matches. Strangely, these websites are very popular yet aren't blocked by the ISPs...

The downside to having a mini-Vegas right across the border of the country's largest and richest city:

Many Vietnamese gamblers are not very successful at it. They borrow money to go to casinos in Cambodia and then lose. When they lose, they either try to borrow more money (loan sharks right there in Bavet are willing to lend losers money) or they find some other way to access money. When they lose all that money then they have to deal with the mafia elements common to any numbers racket. They will be held for ransom. If they have daughters, people will be sent into Vietnam to kidnap the bettor's daughter who will then be sold into prostitution to pay off her father's debt. If they win, they can use their winnings to pay for the favors of the daughter of another past gambler. You can also buy drugs (mostly ecstacy) to ply your short-time lover with.

I guess this is what Hanoi's morality police want to discourage by banning casinos from serving Vietnamese people.

When you first arrive in Vietnam as an American you are blown away by the number of motorbikes on the roads. In the average US city you might see one scooter a day in good weather. In Vietnam you can see hundreds of them lined up behind a red light.

So living in Vietnam, where automobiles are prohibitively expensive (but still within reach for the country's bourgeoisie) you can either go with the flow and ride a motorbike or you can be forever inconvenienced by having to bum rides, walk, or take taxis.

Learning to ride a motorbike is actually quite easy if you can ride a bicycle.

First, you should learn how to ride a bicycle - in Vietnamese traffic. By riding in traffic you will learn how traffic works. When you are a pedestrian you are always walking outside of the flow of traffic or across it. As a cyclist, you'll learn how to weave in and out of the flow, how to recognize when someone in front of you is about to turn (they will slightly cock their head to the side more often than they'll use a turn signal), and how cars treat everyone else like second class citizens.

Second, you need a bike to practice on and a place to practice. You may think that riding an automatic scooter (xe tay ga) is easier than a manual (xe so) especially if you compare it to manual transmission shifting on a car. But changing gears on a manual bike is as simple as clicking your heels, and a manual motorbike will be slimmer and lighter than an automatic, thus easier to handle.

So find, or make, a friend who can take you to someplace to try riding. If you live in Saigon, you can find empty roads out in the suburban districts (Tan Phu, District 6, District 12, etc.) as well as in suburban expat areas like Phu My Hung and An Phu. If you wait until night, the financial district of Saigon around Nguyen Cong Tru Street is fairly empty.

Third, sit on the bike. Your right hand controls a hand brake as well as the gas. On an automatic you may have a second hand brake on the left. On a manual, you will actually have to use your feet. Your left foot changes gears - press your toes down to go to a higher gear and press your heel back to go back down. You can go from Neutral to 1st and on up to 4th gear, and you can also go directly from 4th to Neutral. If you don't want to mess with the gears at first just stick it in 2nd or 3rd gear and learn to ride. You will lose power but still be able to ride.

1. You do need a driver's license to ride a motorbike with an engine larger than 50 cc. This applies to most common bikes aside from Honda Cubs.
2. You do need to wear a helmet, even if you swear the helmets don't give you any protection in case of an accident.
3. Stay in the rightmost lane as every other lane is reserved for cars despite nearly all vehicles and people being on bikes. Car drivers make the rules.
4. Right of way isn't the same as in other countries. Don't expect anyone to yield to you.
5. Despite the lack of any signage, there is a speed limit which depends on the type of vehicle and type of road.
6. Despite what you see constantly, it is illegal to run a red light, to drive in the "wrong" lane, and go the wrong way against traffic on a street.

Tips on handling traffic cops:
1. Have a license. This makes it harder for the officer to extort a lot of money from you.
2. Have a fake second wallet with a small amount of money. Vietnamese cops will take as much as they can from you so don't show them millions of dong. But even if you only have 50k VND they will take it.
3. Avoid eye contact when passing them at traffic stops.
4. In the past, foreigners would get away from being ticketed or fined by speaking English and not being able to communicate with the police but now the police will either be able to speak rudimentary English or will call in someone who can.
5. At night, be careful of two things: drunk drivers and cops. Drunk driving is common in Vietnam and restaurant workers will help stand up a drunk patron so that they can drive home. And night time is when traffic police can set up traps and make a lot of money without doing much work (it's easier to catch people for minor traffic violations in common spots than to chase after drunk drivers, for example).

Finally, remember to carry a raincoat on your bike especially during the rainy season.

Say you have a bunch of blocks and you want them to be displayed on certain nodes of varying content type based on some criteria like the content type and some CCK fields or taxonomy. You can't do this with the stock block visibility settings without writing custom PHP code.

But we can implement it using some existing basic Drupal building blocks: CCK and Views

1. Create a content type called Visibility Block.

You might have a field for content type where the possible values are returned from code which returns an array of the content types (using function node_get_types()).

2. Then for any fields you want to match, you'll have the same fields in this content type. For example, if one of your content types has a textfield and the possible values are 1, 2, 3, then do the same for Visibility Block.

When you create a Visibility Block, you'll have your block content in the body as normal (optionally you could use Block Reference and create blocks like usual and then link to them in the node instead, but I see no point in the extra effort and redirection), then select the conditions for the pseudo-block being visible.

3. Now create a view called Visibility Blocks Viewed. You'll create block displays, one for each content type that you have a Visibility Block set for which may only be one or two of your c-types.

Create an overridden argument each block display for the content type -field- in Visibility Block. You want to match the content type of the viewed node with the field in the Visibility Block, which are not the same type of thing. So you'll need to convert the argument in code.

You'll call menu_get_object() to get the $node because it's better than "$node = node_load(arg(1));". For the chosen c-type for that block display you will check that the implied node's c-type is what ever type you want to show in this block display because you will also check any fields that are specific to this c-type. Use PHP to supply a value since no argument will be passed in, and have the code load the current node and return the type. Then use PHP for the Validator Options and if the c-type doesn't match then you will display empty text. If you have multiple c-types which share CCK fields then you can put them into a single block display.

4. For each content type, in the chosen block display you will create a new argument for each compared against CCK field. You will pick a field from V-block and then use PHP to return a default value of the currently viewed node's field's value. You won't need to do Validation on these arguments.

5. Finally, you may want to limit the number of nodes returned, maybe just one. Now give this block a title and save it and configure its region in the normal block admin.


Why not the normal block visibility settings?

Because there you can't even configure by content type (anymore in D6). You can configure by path glob and by PHP code which overrides the path glob field (including in the database).

So under "Page specific visibility settings", set to "Show if the following PHP code returns TRUE (PHP-mode, experts only).", the field is blocks.pages. Essentially, PHP code works by overriding the pages list.

Why not use Block Page Visibility?

Block Page Visibility ( enables site developers to centralize the display of blocks to a single PHP function. It is an alternative to controlling display via each block's configure form. The more "sometimes on, sometimes off blocks" that a site uses, the more useful this module becomes.

This takes over the visibility settings of all your blocks by calling:

$sql = 'UPDATE blocks SET visibility = 2, pages = CONCAT("<", "?", "php ", "return bpv_is_visible(\'", module, "-", delta, "\'); ", "?", ">") WHERE status=1 AND theme=\'%s\'';

Sometimes it's easier to configure a block by just whether you're logged in, or whether you're on the front page.

This module doesn't give you any finer grained controls. And you have to configure every block in code. You also lose all your current block visibility settings once you install this module. To use this module you have to implement your own bpv_config or bpv_configuration (I think it's a bug that it's looking for bpv_configuration but actually uses bpv_config).

As a tourist or expat living in Vietnam you'll get used to hearing "xe om" (motorbike taxi) guys call for you - by yelling "You!" - at every street corner offering to take you places you probably don't want to go and otherwise offering you drugs and/or prostitutes. And if you're here alone while in Vietnam then it will often make sense (financially) for you to take a xe om instead of a regular tax. If you're with at least two other friends then it makes sense to take a regular taxi instead.

Most people in Vietnam nowadays have their own motorbike so they don't need to take a taxi, whether two- or four-wheeled, but when they do they - even they! - have to haggle with the xe om driver over the price.

How to get a sense of how much it costs to ride a xe om / motorbike taxi?

When trying to figure out a price for a motorbike taxi, keep in mind at least two things. The first is that it should cost about half as much as a regular taxi. The motorbike is not air conditioned and you don't have comfortable seats even though a xe om can slip through traffic quicker (OTOH a taxi will go faster on a clear straightaway). If a regular taxi cost around 12,000 VND/km then a motorbike taxi should be about half that or around 5000 or 6000 VND per kilometer. The glaring difference of course is that a taxi has a meter (if it doesn't, get out immediately!) so you know exactly how far you're traveling whereas the motor bike taxi does not have a meter so you have to kind of gas how far you're traveling and so does he.

Next, to know how much half of the taxi fare is, take a taxi first! You can take the same route by regular taxi once so you know how much that would cost and the halve it. Amazing.

Another thing to keep in mind is if you're a fat Westerner then you probably weigh three times as much as a normal Vietnamese person and even though xe oms don't charge by weight don't be surprised if they take this into account when calculating a price for your journey.


- Make sure the price is clearly agreed upon before you get on the bike. Otherwise there will be an argument when you reach the destination.

- Befriend a local driver near your house and get his mobile phone number (because they all have cell phones). And then anytime you need a trusty driver you can call him up and he will take you home. If you're too drunk to find your way home this can be helpful.

- Another thing to know ahead of time is that often people in Vietnam don't use maps. Instead they will ask around to get the general direction and then when they get closer they will ask again and eventually they will find the place. But they may get lost a few times on the way and hopefully it's not further than they thought in which case they'll bug you for more money. Not that it's your fault.

- Have Google Maps on your smartphone and show them exactly where you want to go because they won't understand your Vietnamese pronunciation of street names. They are much more likely to recognize the street name by seeing it written down rather than hearing you try to pronounce it. This applies to regular taxis as well though. One day we'll all have Androids and this will no longer be an issue.

- If you don't have a map you can also try writing down the name even without the accent marks (called diacritics). It's not your fault that Vietnamese is hard to pronounce at first. P.S. Learning Vietnamese, while difficult compared to learning Spanish, is definitely possible.

- As always when haggling on prices, be prepared to refuse and walk away. This means you should keep in mind the locations of a few other motor bike taxi drivers in case this one says no. So you might walk past the first one you see and not start bartering until the next one you see. Often times they won't agree to take your price until you turn your back to them. Practice showing people your back side a few times.

At the end of the day, though, a lot of xe om drivers outside the touristy areas are trying to earn a meek living and aren't just scheming to rip you off. Know what the approximate going rate is, be prepared to pay it, and don't get upset if he (and sometimes, though very rarely, she) tries to charge a 20% premium for having to make sense of the noises coming out of your mouth or to carry your bonus hundred pounds of weight. Just so long as you're not paying what it would cost to take a taxi.

And there's always the bus. For only 4000 VND you can cross the city in style.

A hospice is where you go to die. Too often, a hospital is the same thing. And it's by design! Where else do you see concentrated so many germ-infested people with weakened immune systems concentrate in one place coughing all over each other? I heard once that half of hospital deaths, probably moreso in developing countries, could be attributed to unclean water and subsequent diarrheal disease. One of the most effective things a doctor can do is wash his hands. But a number of doctors and other hospital staff can't even be bothered to use soap. Beyond that, what else sets one hospital apart from another?

One thing foreigners in Vietnam worry about is quality healthcare, especially if they are retirees or have families with children. The quality of hospitals in Vietnam is increasing as the country has been developing over the past two decades but it's far from the standards of developed countries, including Asian neighbors who were once provincial backwaters compared to Saigon. The Vietnamese and foreign doctors working in Vietnam are surely capable of most quotidian treatments and non-complex surgeries but for more serious treatment many expats opt to fly out of Vietnam. Bumangrad Hospital in Bangkok is the hospital of choice for many expats in Vietnam and they're used to accepting medical tourists. One day, the Vietnamese tourism industry will figure out that people, without wasting further money on marketing, will come back to your country if you provide them good service the first time.

The question is:

Where are the region's best hospitals?

And the follow-up question: How do you determine how good a hospital is?

Country Best Average top 10 Average top 5
Hong Kong5320061137
The above data was collected from's January 2012 world rankings of some 17000 hospitals. You can read more about their ranking there, which isn't necessarily directly scoring the quality of a hospital and requires that the hospital has some presence online. One can only make assumptions about the quality of any hospital that doesn't have even a basic website these days. While most of the best hospitals in the world are in the United States, many are also in Japan. And I don't think any eastern/oriental medicine clinics are included here.

Countries are sorted by the average score of their top 10 hospitals. A hospital's score is based on how much research they do. I guess research hospitals are good hospitals and unfortunately Vietnam does poorly when it comes to doing and encouraging scientific research. [Vietnam fails to pay salaries to professors based on academic output and Vietnamese students aren't taught by the researchers either. Vietnam fails to convince many researchers who go abroad to come back, partly to the poor environment for scientific research.] A good research hospital will have the state-of-the-art when it comes to diseases they specialize in. Sometimes they may be the only place in the world with knowledge and treatment for rare diseases, and sometimes that could all be in the hands and head of one doctor.

Surprisingly, Taiwan beats Japan. And Thailand beats Singapore.

So the Philippines has a good (low) score for their top hospital although a very poor score for their top 10 average. The Philippines seems attractive due to its best hospital being an eye hospital which probably conducts medical research on illnesses of the eye that has been published. Except for eye surgery, expats there might generally still fly abroad for significant medical treatment, Hong Kong or Bangkok.

This type of anomoly also affects Hong Kong.

Cambodia only has two listed hospitals so it's not possible to calculate an average top 5 or 10. From the rankings one could predict the inflow of many Cambodians traveling to Vietnam for medical treatment, or flying to Thailand. This appears to be the situation. FV Hospital in District 7 has staff that can speak Khmer in order to service Cambodian medical tourists. The order of magnitude difference between Singapore and Vietnam is akin to that between Vietnam and Cambodia.

The one hospital in Myanmar is one of the worst in the world. Remember, there were only 17000 hospitals listed. One can only hope with the recent opening up of Myanmar that we'll see some hospital services to support an increasingly demanding expat population.

The following is a Wikipedia list of wiki pages for hospitals all over Vietnam. It's not a complete listing, but it may be useful especially if you are traveling to smaller towns. List_of_hospitals_in_Vietnam

Recently, I discovered first hand what a Vietnamese emergency room is like.

As I was standing at the building's entrance between two never-closing sliding doors while trying to catch a breeze at midnight on a weekday, a Honda SH (a ludicrously expensive motorbike) pulled up right next to me - actually pulling right into the hospital's ER waiting room. Held up between the motorbike's driver and a passenger was an overweight, unconscious middle-aged Vietnamese man. He had drunk too much and was now too much drunk.

The first rule of the ER at a Vietnamese hospital was that if you couldn't get the patient onto a hospital bed yourself, the hospital staff would just watch, or not, and wait until you did. I suppose it's not in anyone's job description. Corollary: they don't really care if you drive your scooter into the hospital's waiting room.

The second rule I learned is that once you fill out the paperwork for admission (you could be convulsing/dying - you'll still have to fill out all the forms before you can see anyone), there is no triage system. I watched a women pull herself into the treatment area, sit herself down on a hospital bed, and wait an hour before asking the head doctor when someone would attend to her. Hospital staff were only loosely aware of who was there, a system also known as "the squeaky wheel gets the oil" to see the patients who complained the most first. There's no formal triage, quick initial examinations to give priority to "time-sensitive" patients, something that would not only waste less time but perhaps save lives.

Third Observation: The emergency room is open all night. They expect you to go and buy your own drugs at their 24-hour pharmacy. Which is fine but at 3AM the sole pharmacist is busy getting her beauty sleep on while laid under covers (because her tiny office is the only place there with A/C and she has it on arctic blast) on a little folding cot and she will be really upset (directed at you) when you wake her up to fill your prescription. I'm not sure what else could be in her job description besides staying awake and filling prescriptions.

Result : Waiting around for 4 hours to get two shots and a prescription for various pills (which you should still Google and Wikipedia when you get home to see what they are and decide if they're necessary or even helpful). Not convinced that the treatment caused any more improvement than just laying around for a couple of hours.

I may be guilty of painting a less than spectacular picture of hospitals in Vietnam and even going so far as to suggesting that there may be room for improvement. But even Vietnamese people are voting with their dollars. They think that rhino horns and other horny appendages are a better cure for their illnesses than going to the hospital, at least a local Vietnamese hospital. But surely the newer hospitals, the international hospitals, are better, aren't they? What about the newish French Viet hospital in Phu My Hung? Next I'll talk about how the best Vietnamese hospitals stack up against hospitals around the region.

Taxonomy is normally pretty simple by default except that it's also called vocabulary (but never terminology although the tags are called terms) and that it can be attached to nodes as fields (using Content Taxonomy Fields to make CCK fields which gives you a bit more control) or not, or both.

Adding language makes it complicated though. Drupal can be said to support languages other than English, multiple-language sites, internationalization and translation. But it's not always user friendly or clear even to developers. Such is the case with taxonomies.

Let's say you have a site that's in two languages, English and Vietnamese. You have translated the interface of the site as well as nodes so that URLs are consistent. To switch language you just add the language code to the front of the URL. So you have a taxonomy with terms in your site's primary or default language. But you want to use the same terms by ID rather than a different set of terms.

1) Edit the vocabulary. Set "Localize". This doesn't set a language to any terms or anything, they are just assumed to be in the default language already.

[Look in term_data and confirm the language column is still empty.]

2) Refresh strings in Translate Interface. Now if you search taxonomy for a term it should appear.

[Look in locales_source for location = "term:$termid:name" where $termid is the tid of a term in your vocabulary. This means it's ready to be translated. After translating, it should be in localtes_target with the same lid. But the translation column is a blob so you won't be able to see the translation directly depending on your mysql client.]

3) I recommend installing the Translation Table module instead of searching for each new term in the regular translate interface. Translation table shows up as a new tab in the translate interface and you can select a vocabulary to see all of its terms in one place.

4) If you use terms in arguments in URLs you'll need something further. Otherwise, all URLs will use the term in the site's default language.

5) One last thing: Don't use t() to translate a term. Use i18ntaxonomy_translate_term_name on a term object (like if you get a vocabulary object from taxonomy_get_tree).

Vietnam has been labeled an "enemy of the Internet" by Reporters Without Borders. There have been a lot of cases of bloggers being targeted, harrassed, and arrested. But RSF (Reporters Sans Frontieres - French for Reporters Without Borders) are possibly speculating heavily on many of their other arguments such as banning Internet (gaming) cafes near schools, the real origins of DDoS attacks, Considering Internet penetration in this rather populous country, with Internet usage continuing to rise rapidly each year, and an explosion of Vietnamese businesses operating on the web, it might be a bit of hyperbole to say that Vietnam and the Internet are enemies, just like people mistakenly still think that Vietnam and America are still enemies. But censorship of websites is an issue here in Vietnam. It's an issue in all of Vietnam's neighbors in Southeast Asia.

First, to the north of Vietnam lies the vast Middle Kingdom of China (China isn't properly part of Southeast Asia but it does border many Southeast Asian countries). China has been labeled #1 Enemy of the Internet for implementing a technologically advanced firewall (the Great Firewall of China). In China, hundreds of popular American websites are blocked including Google, YouTube, Facebok and Twitter. Search queries are also monitored for keywords and then stopped if a person is searching about a sensitive topic like the Tiananmen Square massacre. Chinese are forced to use local versions of social media (like Sino Weibo) which are more easily controlled by the Chinese government. You could try to draw parallels to Facebook versus Zing Me and other social networks in Vietnam but the huge difference is that Facebook is still accessible and the one and only social media platform in Vietnam. TOR (The Onion Router, used for anonymously browsing the Internet and TOR .onion sites) is also blocked in China.

Malaysia isn't your typical enemy of the Internet. Its government (like Vietnam) encourages a digital ("multimedia", a term from the 1990s) economy with various initiatives like Cyberjaya and the Multimedia Super Corridor and when those initiatives started, just as the Internet was blowing up around the world, the government declared that the Internet was to remain free and uncensored. But Convervative Muslims in charge do want to limit certain cultural shortcomings by censoring scenes in movies with nudity or even just cleavage and sex or even just kissing.

Singapore - the country where chewing gum is banned and could get you caned. It's also a country with a rather long blacklist of blocked websites, mostly porn sites like YouPorn or In Vietnam, pornography is illegal and you won't find Playboy or other girly mags being sold at magazine stands. But online, while ostensibly the Internet censorship laws are for blocking online porn, no porn sites are actually blocked (I've checked some of them - for research purposes). In Singapore, to a lesser extent, bloggers have been shut down and so has a random website about traveling while infected with HIV due to unfavorable portrayal of Singapore's policies towards HIV carriers. But no reports of bloggers being jailed unless they were also jaywalking, chewing gum, dancing in public places without a proper permit, bringing durian onto busses, or being a graffiti artist.

Thailand demonstrates a tactic that has been used in Vietnam, Cambodia, and probably many countries. Websites are not strictly speaking made illegal by the government. Rather, the government makes secret requests to ISPs to make certain websites unavailable. ISPs can decide to comply or ignore the request but ignoring the request comes at a high cost and so ISPs will generally block any website upon request. This means now over 100,000 websites are blocked in Thailand, putting it in the same league as China! Out of the rest of the countries in the region Thailand and Cambodia are the only kingdoms. Thailand has lese majeste laws making it illegal to insult the monarchy. This has led to arrests of people saying potentially offensive things about the king on social media sites like Facebook or even for liking or retweeting such statements.

Cambodia follows Thailand and Vietnam's leads when it comes to Internet censorship (Cambodia also gets their Internet connection from those two countries). When the government "requests" that certain websites are blocked the ISPs generally comply making it unnecessary to outright criminalize the websites in Cambodia. At the same time, governments deny censoring any websites and ISPs also release confusing messages regarding any block or whether it's an official block or just "technical difficulties". Like in Vietnam, certain blogs hosted by massive blogging platforms like Blogger and Bloghost have caused both entire platforms to be blocked by ISPs, not just the offending blogs. A certain controversial artists has had his website blocked, as has the NGO Global Witness, who fights againgst natural resource exploitation, corruption, and human rights abuses, probably for writing stuff like Cambodia should not stand for UN Security Council until land grabs and repression stop. Strangely, the prime minister of Cambodia briefly banned smartphones and 3G due to the potential of being able to view sexy streaming videos on one's mobile phone.

In Burma, the problem isn't just that some websites are blocked. Rather, all websites are slow and access can be unbearably limited to the point where they are functionally blocked. In general, Internet access is hard to subscribe to and then expensive to use, unaffordable for most Burmese. They also apparently have the same networking gear used for censorship as in China. With recent changes in attitudes towards the West and to media, with promises of no longer censoring newspapers, this is one country to watch in the future from any angle.

Laos, on the other hand, appears to not censor anything on the Internet.

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